Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

Welcome to my World---Woman, widow, senior citizen seeking to live out my days with a sense of whimsy as I search for inner peace and friendships. Jeez, that sounds like a profile on a dating app and I have zero interest in them, having lost my soul mate of 42 years. Life was good until it wasn't when my husband had a massive stroke and I spent the next 12 1/2 years as his caregiver. This blog has documented the pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties and finally, moving past it all. And now I’m ready for a new start, in a new location---a continuum care campus in West Michigan, U.S.A. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. Stick around, read a while. I'm sure we'll have things in common. Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Jean

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Dementia Brain, Grey's Anatomy and Tick Looking Moles

I blow off a lot of steam in my blog. I’m really not as surly as one might think as you read through my inner most thoughts. I write about them because---well, because I’ve been writing about my inner most thoughts in diaries since the early ‘50s and I wrote with such bad spelling back then you’d need a decoder ring to figure out what I was saying. Most of us have busy minds that take us to places, at times, we wouldn’t announce out loud---unless we’re a blogger. Bloggers do tend to over-share which works out great because no one has read us the way one would be stuck listening to a rambling, old uncle at a Thanksgiving Day dinner.

I’ve had the above paragraph in my computer for over a week of wondering where it will lead me. With my stream of consciousness writing style, I don't usually set out to write about any particular topic. But with all the crappy things going on in our world I feel like I should take a bite out of the elephant in the room and write about something that matters. Where would I start? His leg? His trunk or maybe his belly? The problem is the damn elephant is too damned big and diseased and he's completely out of control, destroying the damn Republican Party tent. Why should I care about their tent when it was the RNC who let the damn crazies out of the asylum? The same crazies who are marching that damn animal around the drain of Democracy. Some writer I am. I just repeated a swear word five times in three sentences. Good writers---if they use swear words at all---use them judicially. 

The point is I feel like a cork barely holding a fermented liquid in its bottle. Hey, maybe I could study the anatomy of elephants and aim that bottle so the cork could become a kill shot missile. Metaphorically speaking. I really love elephants I see baby elephants every day on my Facebook page. Facebook with its steady stream of baby elephants, puppies, kittens and panda bears is my happy place. Where else can you find memes like Keri Beevis, author of gruesome psychological thrillers, churns out saying things like: "I'll bet giraffes don't even know what farts smell like." Her mind truly is an paradoxical place to live.

I had my yearly dermatology appointment this week which was as welcome as getting an STD, not that I’ve ever had one but I’m binge watching Netflix’s Grey’s Anatomy and an episode I saw recently had the interns passing a case around to each other. My old dermatologist retired early because of covid and his son took over his practice and I was worried he’d look like Doctor McDreamy or Doctor McSteamy which would have made the process of being naked so much more embarrassing. But thank goodness he's skinny and looks twelve years old. At one point I wanted to smack him for patronizing me by calling many of my mole “wisdom moles”---never putting a real name to them. He seemed so pleased to find so many of them that I wanted to hand him an ink pen and tell him to play connect-the-dots. He did a biopsy of a spot on my ankle and I’m still waiting to hear back about it. Last winter I thought it was a tick and I pulled it off only to discover no critter resided inside that black, crusty thing. It grew back. I picked it off again and it wouldn’t heal up, got itchy and bloody, grew back yet again.

I wasn't the least bit worried about the spot until the doctor said he sees cancerous moles on ankles all the time. Then this week while I've been binging on Grey’s Anatomy Izzie Stevens got brain cancer from a mole on her back and was given a 3% chance of survival. What are the chances that out of eighteen seasons of that show I'd be watching the metastasized skin cancer episodes while waiting to hear back about my mole that looked like a tick?

Change of topic: We have a new resident who moved into the CCC a month ago and she became the topic of conversation at dinner one night…after she left. She’s got short term memory loss and the question came up about how/why she got into the independent living section on campus and didn’t go directly into the Memory Care. She constantly repeats the same questions. If you sit next to her at a meal she’ll ask you literally ten times in a row how long you’ve lived here, if you like it here, how long can we stay here and she’ll tell you how her family supposedly put her here without telling her a head of time they were doing it. She walks about with a schedule in her hand, afraid if she misses something she’ll get kicked out.

A lot of compassionate people were at the table who have all tried to help her. We talked about the criteria some of us knew about for how the CCC decides when you get moved to a higher level of care and most of us agreed she’s not there yet---she’s not a danger to herself or others.

When I got back to my apartment I googled the question of how to respond to people with dementia who keep repeating the same questions over and over again and I got some tips I can’t wait to share others. We’ve been doing it all wrong, we’ve been trying to reason with her, giving her sympathy for the way she thinks she got dumped here, urging her to talk to her family about it. Telling her it takes time before she'll feel at home. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

In a nutshell we’re supposed to be responding to the emotions, not the words. In her case we need to say variations of: "Your family made a good decision putting you in this beautiful and safe place where you can stay as long as you need." Keep our answers short then quickly use distraction to change the topic. "How do you like Mary's scarf? Isn't that a good color for her?" I don’t know if we can make a difference by changing the way we react to her but we all have a vested interesting in this issue because who knows which one of us will get to that stage sooner rather than later. 

However, the way the world is headed maybe having a dementia brain is not really such a bad thing, especially in a place like this where so many residents are looking out for each other. ©

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Honey Bees, Horseflies and Communal Husbands

The outside of my windows are so dirty I can barely see out of them when the morning sun is shining. The CEO of our continuum care complex claims the earliest they could get a company contracted to wash them is in August which, of course, is unacceptable to a choice few of my neighbors. At our recent Dialogue Meeting the same 2-3 out of 50 were complaining. They complain about everything---some things are reasonable complaints, some aren’t but then again everything is relative. I’m satisfied, for example, to get a professional manicure like never and others here feel awful if they don’t have one every 2-3 weeks. I find that fascinating because we grew up in an era when women did their own nails, guys cut their own lawns and washing windows was a family affair. Now, you can make a living doing manicures, window washing or cutting grass.

The unemployment rate in my county is down to 3.2% which accounts for why this area (and probably others around the country) are having a hard time finding staff for the food service industry and other low paying jobs. Not to mention that some who used to work as waitresses and busboys are delivering food now, a whole new-to-this-area thing created by the pandemic and apparently well liked enough for it to stick around now that our Covid numbers are down.

I hate broken records and those ‘choice few’ who don’t seem to understand or care that things chance want to blame the lack of window washers and wait staff on “those lazy welfare people who don’t want to work.” They repeat the same old, tired rhetoric and stereotyping that’s been around forever. We had this discussion recently and it was mainly a few liberals up against our resident racist. I’m glad I’m surrounded by mostly compassionate, well educated people who understand the world isn’t black and white. (No pun intended.) Systemic poverty is not caused by individual laziness. Ya, I’m a flaming liberal but I’d rather error on the side of compassion that be a hard-nosed person who thinks we need to get rid of all forms of welfare. 

The debate over welfare has been going on since the 1930s when all the alphabets were put into place, SSA (Social Security Act), ADC (Aid for Dependent Children), AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependant Children), CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp), PWA (Public Works Administration which also earmarked money for daycare) and last but not least the Agricultural Trade Act that paved the way for school lunches. The debate will probably go on for the next hundred years as well. 

Why? Because the people of the world are a mass of opposing energy, which until recently I believed was a good thing because the constant pushing back and forth kept things centered. Maybe I’m just getting old and cynical but nothing seems to be centered anymore. We are facing a Constitutional crisis that could destroy our democracy and it seems like there are too many big moneyed people who want to turn the country back into the Wild, Wild West. Then we have The Handmaids Tale leaving the realm of fiction to become our reality with the newest Supreme Court Ruling. It’s like we’ve all become like honey bees up against the horseflies. One sucks the blood out of living things and the other helps pollen all of earth’s vegetation including our food supplies. In decades past we were all honey bees only we were pushing back and forth about which fields to plunder next to move Mankind forward, both sides having good intentions.

Last night at dinner one of the guys got started on how Climate Change is all B.S. and how “it’s nice if we pick up trash on the ground but Mother Nature is starting the forest fires and causing the seas to rise and nothing Man is doing is contributing to climate change.” No one said a word as he blustered and burned out on his angry outburst. What got into his craw is anyone’s guess but he’s kind of like everyone’s husband in a sea of women so we take our clues from his actual wife and don’t challenge him when he’s in a surly mood because they don’t last long. She often uses humor to defuse him and haven’t most spouses been there, done that? In all honestly it surprised me because Communal Husband is one of a half-dozen or more hardcore ‘Catholic Kids’ around here who goes to church 4-7 times a week. 

His out burst about climate change blew my theory that devoted Catholics all follow the lead of their Pope. Saint Francis declared some time ago that climate change science is real and it’s everyone’s duty to be good stewards of the earth. But like all families do---and we are forming a family here---we are learning to accept each others foibles. At Communal Husband’s age does it really matter if he doesn’t understand the connection between global warming and carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels and the chain reaction that sets off in our forests and oceans? Maybe his denial is a form of guilt pushing back against the thought that our generation has unknowingly committed crimes against the environment? It’s not as if other generations haven’t done the same thing. We do better when we know better---at least that's the theory. Let's all hope that in the honey bees vs the horseflies fight for world domination it's the communal effort of the bees that wins on the timeline of history. ©

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Fashion Shows and Petty Annoyances

If you are reading this it means I survived being a model in my first ever fashion show. When I got the email looking for people here at the continuum care complex to wear purple and walk a runaway for Alzheimer's Awareness Week I replied within minutes---before I could change my mind. It was not something that was on my Bucket List. In fact I’ve pretty much avoided fashion and truck shows all my life. But I had recently bought a long, purple kaftan, not knowing when or if I’d ever wear it so doing the show for a good cause seemed like fate was pulling the strings of my life.

I was excited about it until at dinner last Saturday when a woman I really don’t like said, “I hear you’re going to be in a fashion show and that you had a dress fitting today.” I’d only told one person so I knew where the gossip came from but I was taken back at how an off-handed remark at the elevator got twisted so out of shape. I was on my way to buy a new bra to wear for the show and I mentioned that to a neighbor coming back from shopping. I’ve had blood-boiling conversations with my accidental dinner companion before and I sat there trying to decide whether it was her or the elevator lady who twisted buying a bra into a fitting for the dress. I decided it could have been either one. Elevator lady gets confused easily and Dinner Lady is like vinegar to my oil. I pouted half a day over her taking the joy out of doing a ‘larky thing’ like a fashion show and I wondered how many others would be surprised when I showed up in kaftan when rumor has it I was getting fitted for a dress. Yup, “Jean is wearing a tent,” I imagined the run away announcer say, "especially fitted to her plump body."

Vinegar Lady rubs me the wrong way with petty stuff like her oh so prefect table manners and vast knowledge of proper British and Downton Abbey decorum. For example, we had dinner rolls at the table but no bread plates to put them on and the waitress was stretched too thin to catch her attention to get one. So I decided to just butter the roll and balance the bread on my butter plate. When I told her what I was about to do Vinegar says, “If this place were truly the fine dining experience they advertise it to be we’d have table cloths and then the proper place to put bread is right on the table cloth.” Good to know---just not in my world where table cloths and red wine are not my friends.

She also eats with her folk upside down and only cuts one piece of meat at a time which I googled to find the origin of doing that, having seen very few people in my lifetime eat that way. It actually made sense that by holding your folk upside down to cut then not turning it over to eat the bite on the fork that your elbow doesn’t stick out which makes it less likely to bump into someone sitting next to you. For a leftie like me that could actual be helpful and for a bonus point it supposedly looks more graceful. The next time I had meat to cut I tried the upside down fork thing but I reverted back to the way I was taught in a high school etiquette class in the ‘50s. My table manners are just fine except when I eat with Vinegar and she makes me feel like a bowl of volatile oil ready to burst into flames.

Besides her impeccable table manners she talks so soft I can barely hear her even with my new hearing aids. And she talks a lot, always telling about this place or that place in Europe and the doings at her church---she’s one of the ‘Catholic Kids’ who goes every day. When she gets interrupted by a waitress or someone stopping by our table to say ‘hi’ no matter how long the interruptions she always starts back in with, “As I was saying before the interruption…” If she were a husband I’d divorce her on that annoying habit alone.

I did try to not get paired for dinner with her, went so far as to tell the hostess who does all the seating charts to never put us together again. The hostess did try but twice Vinegar came in and decided to sit with me because I was there and her assigned table mate wasn’t. I didn’t want to put the hostess in an awkward situation so I whisper told her that it was okay. 

I feel like a cranky old woman when Vinegar is one-on-one with me and I keep thinking I’m putting out the same negative vibes I’d be putting out if I was having dinner with Hannibal Lecter. Apparently I’m not but I’ll bet I’m going to hell in a hand basket for being so such a petty person. Who gets their panties in a wad over minor stuff like this?  

The fashion show was fun. I decided if I was going to do it I was going to camp it up, play the game. It even gave me a chance to wear my old silver charm bracelet because I needed to have something to cover up the wide white band of skin that didn't get tanned under my smart watch. ©

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Mental Health and Beyond Van Gogh

According to the Mental Health America website people over 65 comprise 13% of the population but account for 20% of the deaths by suicide. I was shocked to learn that two million of those of us over 65 have some form of depression and most of it goes untreated. In the future I will no longer make fun of the Medicare Wellness Test questions designed to open up a dialogue about depression and as long as I don't start collecting empty creamer cups from our cafe` and stuffing under my mattress I won't worry about my mental health. (Famous last words.) 

Why am I writing about this topic? Because last week I woke up sad and an all day rain kept me that way. Aside from the rain. I do have a clue as to why I was feeling melancholy. In the wee hours of the night when thunder woke me up I had a hard time falling back to sleep. I kept thinking about the stuff that made it through my big downsizing and how I should have let go of more. I'll never use up all the empty canvases or skeins of yarn or quarters of quilting fabrics in my craft closet. I'll never read all the books on my book shelves. Squirreling arts & crafts away for hard times when I might not be able to afford them is something I inherited from my mom and it’s been a life-long habit. Being in the eighth decade of my life puts a different spin on the habit, though, turning that stuff into unrealistic expectations. Is that a thing? Surrounded by so many people in my peer age group---most of whom seem happy and me with my unfulfilled dreams is why I’m taking my mental health temperature. Get out the violin to go along with my whining.

According to a report I read at the CDC---and this is common sense---it’s important for anyone evaluating an elderly person for depression to note that social isolation and loneliness are not significantly linked. A person can be surrounded by people and still feel alone and people can be alone but not feel lonely. However, a recent government study found that: 1) “Social isolation was associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia, and 2) Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.” I won’t bore you with the other bullet points the study concluded. It’s enough to say that loneliness can literally kill us if we don’t get proactive for ourselves or someone we know who fits the profile. Start here with this article from the CDC Depression is not a Normal Part of Growing Older. I didn’t see myself in that article. I’m frustrated but not depressed, but a senior citizen I’ve known my entire life has tried to commit suicide so I know first-hand senior depression is real.

I went to the 'Beyond Van Gogh' exhibit that’s been traveling around the country this week with twenty-two other CCC residents. If you don’t know what that is, here’s a quote from their press release: “Beyond Van Gogh is a new truly immersive experience. While other shows use virtual reality or still images, our show breaks barriers by incorporating both still and moving art. Masterpieces, now freed from frames, come alive, appear, and disappear, flow across multi-surfaces, the minutia of details titillating our heightened senses. The show is projected on every surface around you, this makes you feel as though you have stepped directly into a Van Gogh painting...”

When I tried to find reviews of the art show for this post the first one I found was short and not so sweet. It said, “The show was a very expensive screen saver.” I had to laugh at that because the flowing and changing colors did make me feel like I was standing in the center of a giant lava lamp. I was mesmerized by it. As I watched the moving images and listened to the music a sense of wonder and peace came over me and it reminded my of one of my all-time favorite movie scenes (What Dreams May Come). Robin Williams’ movie character is walking in wet paint, as if he were part of a giant landscape painting. My smart watch registered the lowest stress level reading I’ve ever gotten in the three months I’ve own it…that’s how much the exhibit spoke to my soul.

Before you get to the main room with all the projections going every which way but on the ceiling you go past a series of boards with writing about and by Van Gogh. He was frustrated by his art and yet he created so much of it. It was a light bulb moment to be reminded that even the great artists struggle when it doesn’t work and are euphoria when it does. Van Gogh and Robin Williams had a lot in common in the mental health department and both longed to find something missing in their lives, something not even their great talents could give them. Especially their talents could not give them.

Reality Check: I love where I’m living now. I’ve got plenty of solitude when I want it and interesting people close by when I don’t. I've got Mother Nature's pretty face to admire just a short walk away. And on the bus back from the Van Gogh show I sat next to our CCC’s pastor. We "run" in different circles so I've only had one, one-on-one conversation with her in the past but it feels like we're kindred spirits and isn’t that strange given she’s a true believer and I call myself an agnostic. She suggested that we should get together for coffee and talk. What do you think that means? ©



Photos at the bottom I grabbed off the internet. The one at the top I took, then I accidentally dialed 911 in the dark and gave up on taking my own photos and videos.